Persons of Color
Farmer John Morrison of
Dickinson Township, Cumberland County was fast asleep on the night of
10 June 1859 when, sometime between midnight and two a.m. he was rudely
awakened by a loud knocking at his door. Morrison opened his door to
find “three or four persons” there, strangers, who were inquiring
for John Butler, the African American man that he had employed on his
farm since March. Morrison naively gave them general directions to Butler’s
house, which was about three-quarters of a mile distant, and then returned
to his sleep. He awoke the next morning feeling uneasy about the late
night disturbance and decided to check up on his hired hand and the man’s
wife and child.
eastern sky was showing some light in the predawn hour as Morrison
saddled a horse and rode over to Butler’s house. What he saw
confirmed his fears. He “found the house open, went in and found
no person there; found the hat, coat and boots [Butler] had worn the
day before were lying here and there around the room.” Other
clothes belonging to a woman and to a child were lying in disarray
around the cramped interior of the small house, and the family’s
personal possessions—a snuffbox, a photograph, and “several
other trinkets”—were similarly scattered across the floor.
Morrison noticed that “the bread was made up in a tray,” awaiting
the bake oven. It was obvious to him that the family had not left their
home voluntarily. He ran over to a nearby stable and saw that a “two-horse
wagon had been hitched and turned round.” He followed the track
of the wagon, suspecting that it had been used to kidnap the family.
It led him “down the pine road, past Mathew Moore’s and
on to the turnpike gate.”55 From
there he went to get the sheriff.
Butler was thirty-seven years old when he worked as a farm
laborer for John Morrison. He had not been long employed by the Dickinson
Township farmer, because, in the spring of 1858 Butler was held as
a slave by Theodore Hoffman, a farmer in Johnsville, Carroll County,
Maryland. Those who knew him described him as a “raw-bony man” with
a beard and a mustache. In the racially-charged parlance of the day,
he was a “yellow” man, indicating a light skin color,
and said to be “hardly as bright as a copper color.”56
was married to a woman named Emeline, and the couple had a daughter
named Elizabeth, but Emeline and Elizabeth belonged to a different
owner, meaning that John was limited to visiting his family only when
Theodore Hoffman allowed it. John Butler was known at that time as
Rezin Martin, the name under which he was formally registered as Hoffman’s
property in the State of Maryland. Originally, John and his family
were all owned by the same person, Surat D. Warfield, but as so frequently
happened to slave families, the death of the owner led to the breakup
of the family. According to a neighbor who knew the Warfields, “After
Surat D. Warfield died, his negroes were all divided between his heirs.”
wife and daughter, who was not yet two years old at the time, became
the property of Surat’s daughter Elizabeth Warfield, and John
became the property of John A. Warfield. Fortunately, the Warfield
families all lived within a short distance of each other in Frederick
County, so for the Butlers (known then as the Martins), life went on
pretty much as if little had changed.
got less certain for them, though, in 1854, when Elizabeth Warfield
became gravely ill. The Butlers knew from bitter experience that if
Elizabeth Warfield should die, they would again face the possibility
of being separated. Perhaps Emeline talked to her ailing owner about
her fears, or maybe Elizabeth Warfield just understood the precarious
nature of their lives, because before she died, Elizabeth Warfield
provided in her final will and testament for the manumission of Emeline
and Elizabeth upon her death. The old woman died in 1854, and when
the will was proved on 9 January 1855, Emeline Butler and her daughter
Elizabeth became free persons. The family breathed easier, knowing
that, regardless of what happened to John, his wife and child would
be free to follow and live near him.
fact, John Warfield did sell John Butler, in 1856, to a farm manager
named Theodore Hoffman, who lived in the neighboring county of Carroll.
Hoffman was an overseer for a man named Saum, and he used John Butler
as a field hand and as a teamster. Hoffman, to keep John happy, agreed
to find room on Saum’s land for Emeline and Elizabeth, and he
set them up in a small house on the edge of the property. The small
family had again dodged the inevitable break up, and things quieted
down again for them for a while.
as the Butlers were living quietly on the Saum property, though, trouble
was developing with the administration and settlement of the Warfield
estate. Elizabeth Warfield’s executor, Richard Warfield, was
finding that her debts exceeded her liquid assets, and as it was his
duty to settle the estate and satisfy her debts, he decided to sell
whatever he could, which included the rest of her slaves. He sold some
to persons in Baltimore, some to persons in Frederick and at least
one slave experienced the worst possible fate by being put up for public
auction. Then Richard Warfield seized upon a Maryland court ruling
that allowed the executor of an estate to ignore a clause of manumission
in a will if it would “prejudice the creditors of the testator.” He
decided that Emeline and Elizabeth would have to be sold as well, and
in February 1858 he obtained a court order to do so.
Butler family was devastated to find Emeline and Elizabeth’s
freedom melting away. In desperation, Emeline appealed to local farmers
for money to “buy” herself and her daughter. Some refused
outright, some were noncommittal, and a few promised to give her part
of the money. She appealed twice to a farmer named Jon Strausberger.
At first he told her he would give her part of the funds she needed,
but when she came to him in the spring of 1858 to ask for the promised
funds he told her he would pay “as soon as the rest commenced
paying.” Strausberger “did not care about being first.” The
woman could see that she was caught in an unviable situation as none
of the local farmers wanted to be the first to put up money.
was when the family decided to take their freedom into their own hands.
Shortly after Emeline’s unproductive meeting with John Strausberger,
John, Emeline, and Elizabeth quietly left for Pennsylvania, settling
down in Dickinson Township, near Carlisle, under the name Butler.57
man who came for John Butler and his family on the night
of 10 June 1859 was Emanuel Myers, a thirty-three-year-old farmer
who lived on the Baltimore Pike just across the Maryland line. Myers
was a family man who owned a small amount of property, had a wife
named Catharine who was about the same age as he, and four children
who ranged in age from two to nine years.58
was not a professional slave catcher. In the summer of 1858, John A
Warfield, as agent for Richard Warfield, had made two trips into Pennsylvania
to try to reclaim the Butler family, but was unsuccessful. Richard
Warfield tried to find someone else to capture them but had no luck
until, in the spring of 1859, he talked to Emanuel Myers, who agreed
to retrieve the family in return for $1500. At the advice of his attorney,
Warfield gave Power of Attorney to Myers and sent him to Carlisle in
search of Thomas M. Biddle, who he thought was the United States Commissioner.
Biddle told Myers he was no longer the acting slave commissioner, and
that no one had been appointed to fill the position, Myers then asked
Biddle, in reference to the Butler family, “What if I take them
away anyhow?” Whatever Biddle said in reply to Myers, it was
not an explicit warning that he would be arrested for kidnapping. Myers,
emboldened by what he took to be a noncommittal reply from Biddle,
decided to proceed with his plan, and that night he took two helpers
and a carriage and went in search of John, Emeline, and Elizabeth Butler.
The trio of slavecatchers offered ten dollars to a local man named
Gass to show them where the family lived, which he did, and after a
brief struggle at the modest house, succeeded in getting the Butler
family loaded into the carriage, after which they sped south, stopping
only to leave a dime on the windowsill of the toll keeper’s house.59
brazen kidnapping of an entire family shocked the neighbors in Dickinson
Township. On 14 June, John Coleman, a free African American farm worker
and friend of the Butler family who lived just down the road from them,
swore out a complaint for Sheriff Robert McCartney. Butler’s
employer, John Morrison, covered the legal fee. Sheriff McCartney enlisted
a deputy and borrowed a shotgun from a neighbor, then went in search
of the men identified as the kidnappers.
posse quickly arrested one person within the county, but their main
quarry, Emanuel Myers, was safely beyond their reach in Maryland. John
Morrison accompanied the lawmen on their trip to Maryland. As the employer
of John Butler, he had an interest in recovering his farm hand, but
Morrison had another angle: he was also an active agent of the Underground
Railroad in that area. He, together with neighbor Richard Woods, utilized
a swampy area on their land to hide fugitive slaves that were sent
to them.60 Morrison probably
also felt considerable guilt at being the person who sleepily directed
the kidnappers to the Butler house.
Morrison, and the deputy met with the sheriff of Carroll County in
Westminster, but the sheriff was uncooperative regarding the requested
arrest of Emanuel Myers. At the Pennsylvanians' request, the Carroll
County sheriff took the party to the Westminster jail, as that is where
they believed Myers had taken the Butler family, but the kidnapped
family was not among the African American prisoners there.61 They
returned to Dickinson Township empty handed, but still determined to
get Myers. Someone in the group pointed out that if they could trick
Myers into coming back onto Pennsylvania soil, he could be arrested.
Sheriff McCartney decided it was worth a try.
Mail Coach Ruse
Friday, 17 June, Sheriff McCartney, John Morrison, and possibly a few
other men again went to seek Myers, but this time they took the stagecoach
down along the Baltimore Pike. Morrison got out of the stage well back
from the Pennsylvania side of the border and watched as the stage driver,
a man named Tate, stopped at a building just inside the Pennsylvania
line. Tate could see Myers’ house just down the road, on the
Maryland side of the state line, and he hailed Myers from where he
was stopped. Emanuel Myers came out and Tate yelled to the man that
he had a letter for him from Murray Shilling, a neighbor, and that
he could come get it. Myers apparently never suspected a trap, so he
Myers climbed up to the driver’s seat to retrieve his letter,
Sheriff McCartney stepped out of the stage and handcuffed him, telling
the Maryland man that he was being arrested for kidnapping. This dramatic
luring of the Maryland man to Pennsylvania soil had an ironic twist
to it, which was printed by abolitionist newspapers under the headline: “A
trial of Emanuel Myers, which was held in November at the next Court
of Quarter Sessions in Carlisle, was considerably less dramatic than
the capture. Held in the shadow of the Harpers Ferry fallout, it was
largely overshadowed by the events in Charles Town and the rescue operations
for fugitive Owen Brown and his companions.
Robert McCartney testified that he cautioned his prisoner “not
to say anything” during the stage coach ride back to Carlisle,
but Emanuel Myers would not shut up. He told the sheriff how much he
was being paid to capture the Butlers, he described how the Warfields
and their lawyer were supposed to “keep him clear,” he
told the sheriff that he knew “the woman and child were free” when
he took them. He even told McCartney about his encounter with Thomas
Biddle, and how he had stated to Biddle his intention of taking the
family away without a warrant. Myers made a point of telling the sheriff
how he had “left ten cents on the sill of the window at the gate
house when they drove through the toll-gate that night,” as if
this act of honesty would exonerate him for overseeing the violent
kidnapping of three people. “Myers,” the sheriff concluded,
was "a great talker.”63
the end, the jury convicted Emanuel Myers of three of the nine counts
against him, which pertained to the violent kidnapping of Emeline and
Elizabeth Butler, who were determined to be free persons with the proving
of Elizabeth Warfield’s will in January 1855. Because the Warfield
heirs allowed the woman and her daughter to live as free persons, they
were therefore considered free prior to the establishment of debts
against the estate, which did not happen until February 1858. The Butlers
all returned to their home in Dickinson Township, Cumberland County
and Emanuel Myers was sentenced to prison for five to twelve years
and ordered to pay a fine of five hundred dollars.64
than the Butler family was the fugitive Moses Horner, who was captured
while at work in a field near Harrisburg on the evening of 26 March
1860 by two slave hunters, one of whom was Deputy U.S. Marshal John
Jenkins. Horner was taken to Middletown, where the party boarded a
night train to Philadelphia to have the man examined by Judge John
Cadwalader of the U.S. District Court as a fugitive slave. Horner was
placed in Moyamensing Prison until the hearing, which Cadwalader set
for the afternoon of 27 March, to allow the defense time to study the
details of the case.
Once it began,
the hearing strongly resembled the recently concluded Daniel Dangerfield
case, with Benjamin Harris Brewster again appearing for the owner,
a man from Jefferson County, Virginia named Charles T. Butler, and
PAS lawyers George H. Earle, William Bull, and Edward Hopper representing
Horner. The first part of the hearing was taken up by an examination
of paperwork, and after some brief legal maneuvering, Judge Cadwalader
adjourned the proceedings until ten o’clock a.m. the next day,
to allow for the arrival of defense witnesses from Harrisburg.
lawyers, recalling the effectiveness of Doctor Jones’ testimony
at the hearing for Daniel Dangerfield, were obviously hoping for a
repeat performance, and a telegram was sent to Joseph Bustill in Harrisburg
to prepare and send some effective witnesses. Something went wrong,
however, and the hoped-for witnesses never showed up in the courtroom.
Judge Cadwalader ended the hearing early, decided in favor of the slave
holder, and ordered the remanding of Moses Horner to Virginia.65
marshals tried to remove Horner from the courtroom, however, things
got ugly. Eyewitnesses remembered how a “tremendous crowd” had
assembled on Fifth Street to support Horner, and when the fugitive
was brought outside and loaded into a waiting carriage, a “rush
was made to rescue the prisoner, and the horses drawing the carriage
in which he was [sitting] were twice pushed over upon the sidewalk.” Considerable
damage was caused to the carriage; “there was the wildest confusion,
and the excitement was beyond description.”
were on hand. The local authorities by now had come to expect violence
in the aftermath of fugitive slave cases. A witness reported, “The
police charged the mob again and again, and finally drove it off.” Those
who were there remembered that “broken heads and bloody noses
were plentiful in the vicinity of the Old Court House.”66 Ten
of the protestors were arrested and five of them were fined twenty-five
dollars and imprisoned for thirty days.
over the arrest of the protestors was as bitter as for the re-enslavement
of Horner, who by 4 April had been returned to the Charles Town jail,
the same jail that had held the John Brown raiders a month prior.67 Abolitionist
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper wrote to the Weekly Anglo-African in
praise of the rescue effort, and in support for the convicted rescuers,
dubbed the “Moses Horner Five, calling for national action, saying "Shall
these men throw themselves across the track of the general government
and be crushed by that monstrous Juggernaut of organized villainy,
the Fugitive Slave Law, and we sit silent, with our hands folded, in
selfish inactivity?"68 Her
words were yet another in a steady drumbeat of calls to action, and
large numbers of the citizens of Harrisburg, black and white, heeded
them. Regardless of the Moses Horner decision, central Pennsylvania,
and Harrisburg in particular, was not going to be inactive.
55. Court of
Quarter Sessions of Cumberland County, “The Trial of Emanuel
Myers, of Maryland, for Kidnapping Certain Fugitive Slaves, Had at
Carlisle, Pennsylvania” (November 1859) 2, Library of Congress,
American Memory, “Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860,” http://memory.loc.gov
(accessed 5 July 2006).
56. Ibid., 3.
57. Ibid., 3-7.
58. Bureau of
the Census, 1860 Census, Carroll County, Maryland, 58.
of Emanuel Myers,” 3.
This was at least the second time in a few months that slave catchers
had sought out Thomas Biddle for warrants. In February of that year,
John W. Patton and Sanford Rogers had come to him to obtain a warrant
for Daniel Dangerfield, but Biddle advised them to go to Philadelphia.
If Biddle also advised Emanuel Myers to go to Philadelphia, it was not
Annals of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Genealogical
Publishing, 1905), 764-765.
of Emanuel Myers,” 3-7.
Myers had actually taken the Butler family through Taneytown to the jail
in Frederick, although by the time that Sheriff McCartney and his party
inquired for them, they had already been returned to their respective
62. Ibid.; National
Era, 18 August 1859; Carroll County Democrat, 23 June,
14 July, 1859.
of Emanuel Myers,” 4-5.
64. Ibid., 10-15; Carroll
County Democrat, 1 December 1859; Bureau of the Census, 1860
Census, Lower Dickinson Township, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania,
Although Myers was not convicted of kidnapping John Butler, who was the
only member of his family recognized by the court as a fugitive slave
and the property of Theodore Hoffman, Butler continued to live as a free
man with his family in Dickinson Township following the trial. It is
possible that his neighbors contributed funds to help him purchase his
freedom, just as many of them had contributed money to capture Myers.
York Times, 28 March 1860; Pennsylvania Telegraph,
4 April 1860; American Anti-Slavery Society, The Anti-Slavery
History of the John Brown Year (New York: American Anti-Slavery
Society, 1861), 59-60.
and Mulholland, “Philadelphia in Slavery Days.”
Democratic Mirror, 4 April 1860; Quarles, Black Abolitionists,
214. Quarles lists the “Moses Horner Five” as Alfred
M. Green, St. Clair Burley, Jeremiah Buck, Basil Hall and Richard
68. Sarah Klein, “Me,
You, the Wide World: Letters & Women’s Activism in Nineteenth
Century America,” Women Writers: A Zine, ed., Kim Wells, http://www.womenwriters.net/may2001/zineepistolary.htm
(accessed 25 August 2005).